A Travellerspoint blog

Coloring Between the Lions

Arathusa 2

On last evening’s drive we again met the leopards. Our first clue to their presence was spotting a bloody, flayed impala carcass hung in the high crotch of a tree. Minutes later the leopard appeared and—perhaps thinking we might steal it—climbed up and retrieved her prize.

That was our highlight—night falls fast, and two hours into the drive we lost light and suffered a temperature drop of about 20 degrees. At six o’clock the driver stopped in the heart of the bush, lifted the table hinged to the front of the cruiser, and served us drinks. We enjoyed a fine South African red while our driver told us how he read tracks and the smell of urine to find our prizes.

There are twenty or so other guests at the Lodge. Three American pediatrics residents, a sweet young Scottish couple, a Swiss family, and a Danish couple, among others. Almost all are combining the safari with a soccer game or three. All interesting, and most fluent in English. We eat together, and well. Fine soups and salads, local game most nights, and truly gourmet desserts.

This morning we rediscovered the pride of lions. The females stroll casually, singly or in pairs; the male follows a distance behind. Our guide parked the Cruiser in their path, thus inviting them to pass on either side. One or two glanced up, but generally ignored us. Then the thick-maned male passed beside me, less than a foot from my arm. Just behind us, the lion roared a half-dozen times, His final roar began a low rumble and rose to a high tenor, a note so wild and free it touched some forgotten chord in us, terror and awe, until now crusted over with layers of civilization. I will remember that sound on my deathbed.

Our last quarry was a pair of cheetahs, slinking through low bushes and sliding over gray termite mounds. Though similar in appearance to leopards, the cheetah is larger, and has a longer thicker tail. Because they were on private lands we couldn’t get as close as we would like. But it’s OK—we’ve seen more things than we might have dreamed of, and all here on earth.

And now Josh will discourse on the US v Ghana soccer game.

Posted by jfarq 17:17 Comments (2)

Arathusa at Sabi Sand

Stalking...

sunny

The hour-long flight from Jo-burg took us to Hoedspruit, one of several gateways to Kruger National Park. Kruger is an enormous game reserve encompassing much of northeast South Africa. Our Lodge is located in the Sabi Sand reserve. Reaching it meant a 90-minute drive through the bush and several small African villages. We passed scores of roadside stands selling fruits and vegetables, schools, churches. Most of the homes are built of gray brick; they vary in size from tens of square feet to quite large. Contrary to expectations, there were people everywhere, wheeling firewood in barrows, walking the shoulders, or lounging, watching the world go by.

Arathusa Game Lodge consists of eleven individual lodges. Ours is a roomy one bedroom unit. Hardwood floors in the bedroom give way to tile in the huge office/bathroom space. A high, rectangular thatched roof covers everything. We share twin single beds that cannot be separated. A fine mosquito netting is draped over the bed’s four posts. Best about the room is shower—the water pounds out at the speed of sound, steaming and generous. This is important because it’s colder than you can imagine when the sun drops like a stone.

I am right now sitting on the tile veranda of our lodge. Directly before me is a small lake, maybe an acre of stagnant gray water. On the lake’s far side are two corkscrew-horned Kudu and a half-dozen zebra. Minutes ago three giraffe gamboled down for a drink. An African Fish Eagle, black with a dazzling white head, perches in a dead tree near the water.

Yesterday evening we enjoyed our first game drive. We mingled with a docile herd of Cape buffalo and spotted elephants giving themselves dust showers to cool down. (See photo). The highlight of the excursion was two young leopards and their momma. She basked by the side of the dirt road and tolerated our adoration and pic-snapping for 20 minutes before wandering off. We followed; every so often she shot us a look that said, “one more picture, buster, and I’m ripping your arm off.” Every other animal appears indifferent to our presence, almost cuddly. But not the leopard—she strolls along in what Tom Wolfe would call a pimp walk, supremely arrogant, and her stare is icy, transfixing.

Earlier this morning a 5:30 wake-up call for the next drive rousted us out. We donned as many layers as we could stand and hopped into a Toyota land cruiser. Nine guests sat behind our native driver/guide, named de Beers. A native tracker sat in a seat welded to the hood of our vehicle. He swept a bright spotlight back and forth across our trail so we could see our way until sunrise. Our cruiser careened over rutted dirt trails in search of a pack of rhinos. Twice the guide jumped out to examine scat for warmth. He studied the depth and direction of trampled grass to read the herd’s destination and size. We found them just as the sun rose over the bush. We’ll upload a picture—huge animals; a male anxious to mate, and two females who refused him (apparently the females demand 30 days vacation, not to mention dinner and a movie, between matings).

After a couple of giraffes and a few baboons the ranger spotted our prize. A pride of eight lions lolled in tall grass. Some slept, while others polished off the shanks of a Cape Buffalo recently killed. The lazy old male lay a short distance away, his stomach full and uninterested in us. We’ll upload some pictures, all shot during a 30-minute stay in their territory. It’s quite amusing how all the animals ignore us. So many people pass through without incident that the animals are quite unafraid—and more important, quite –non-aggressive.

Back to the lodge for a 9AM breakfast. Then free time until lunch at 2, and yet another drive from 3:30 to 7.

Posted by jfarq 16:51 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Into Darkest Africa

sunny

Last night, Germany edged Ghana. Soccer City is truly awesome--90,000 screamers attending. Soccer aesthetics are stunning: the green expanse odf the pitch, the color of the players, the madness and dress of the spectators. And bats darting in andout of the TV lights. We're getting the transport down--Rule 1: Throw money at it. The US has advanced, by the skin of thier chinny chin chins.

We're at the airport once again. Flying to Kruger National Park to see wildlife. We will try to upload pics of lions munching on gazelle bones.

Take care, and we miss you all.

Posted by jfarq 00:38 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Bafana Bafana ....

…. Is the name of South Africa’s soccer team. We found a bar (amazing how easy it is to find a bar) and watched them beat France 2-1. A big upset over a team riven with dissention, that everyone hates (even the French). But it didn’t send all here dancing into the streets, because SA still failed to make it out of its group. Nosed out by Mexico.

NOTE TO ANDRES: This means that Mexico will play Argentina in the R/16 game—and we have tickets for it! I’ll scream for your team—even root against Messi, which breaks my heart—and give you a full report when I return to class. All in the past tense, so you and Patricia and Carlos and Norma can practice. (And Norma, I will cheer a little for Argentina).

The weather remains perfect. Nearly 70 during the day, frost at night. Haven’t seen a cloud in a week. Jo-burg remains a big friendly party. Everyone talks to everyone. We met a BP exec (maybe here in the witness protection program?) and a retired old NRA-hatted coot from ‘Frisco who say this is his ninth trip here, hunting “exotic animals.” We asked “What animals?;” he nattered off a half-dozen we had never heard of. Guess he wants to kill one of everything before he dies. NOTE TO GREG: I did not strip to reveal my Obama t-shirt beneath.

Tonight we stumble and fumble our way to Soccer City for Ghana v. Germany. NOTE TO CLAUDIA’s son: Deutschland uber alles. Before that, another bar, US v Algeria on TV.

No idea how to get back from the stadium:

“We’re going outside. We may be some time.”

Then, we’re off to Kruger for safari.

Posted by jfarq 00:35 Comments (0)

Lost in Oblivion

Correction: We referred to Bloemfontein as being in the Orange Free State. It is now called the Free State. My mistake—I’m reading a history of the country and am only up to around 1880, when orange was still the dominant color.

We returned to Jo-burg and rejoined the springbok and ostrich at the Airport Game Lodge. Much larger room, but winters chill still in the air. We left the lodge for the game early, because we needed to figure out how to get to the Ellis Park Stadium. Once in a modern, almost glitzy suburb called Stainton, we asked around ….

… and no one knew.

No one. Not FIFA people, not hotel staffs, not men and women on the streets, not citizens with red pullovers claiming they were “Ambassadors.” No one in information booths. Conflicting information everywhere, wrong or no signage. Conflicting opinions and vague directions. We finally bargained a decent fare with a Cab driver and arrived in time to watch Honduras and Spain warm up. Good stadium, good seats, enthusiastic crowd, all to see Spain virtually execute Honduras, who also appeared to be passive spectators. Spain was stunning: every pass appeared meaningful, strategic, and always pressing. The 2-0 score could easily have been 6-0, Spain so dominated play. John will encourage Josh to wax poetic, below.

We lucked our way back to our lodge via foot (through dark and silent streets), bus, and taxi. Again, blind luck and instinct were our primary guides. Our trip has really been quite smooth, in terms of outcomes. But we have never had the luxury of confidence that we were on the right bus, or street, or corner. Everyone is friendly, and tries hard to help, but some authority has done poorly with planning and training and documentation.

Posted by jfarq 00:32 Comments (0)

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